To Decoy Or Not To Decoy?
Decoys, in one form or another, have been helping hunters get closer to their prey since the first rock was sharpened to a point. No matter what you are chasing around in North America, the use of decoys is something hunters are still using today. Heck, there is an entire industry built around everything from duck, geese, deer, turkey and just about anything one wants to tag out with.
Turkey hunting is no different. Turkey hunters have been using decoys since somebody discovered rubbing a stick on a piece of slate sounds like a turkey yelp. The excitement of getting a gobbler to come close enough that we can hear them drumming is what we strive for.
Decoys have come a long way since the old form — fold-up decoys. Today hunters can choose from 3-D, full body, motion and actual taxidermy mounts. But if you are a turkey hunter on the move, you need a decoy that is compact and life-like.
The folks at Avian X have been introducing first-class realistic turkey decoys from the beginning, and for the spring of 2023 Avian X has the HDR Feeding Hen and HDR Hen. The Avian X Heavy-Duty Realism (HDR) line of turkey decoys have mind-blowing realism — they look like a real turkey. Blow-molded into reality from hand-carved designs, these decoys harness unbeatable detail and durability.
The HDR Hen features an upright body with two interchangeable head postures for double the realism and double the customization. Use the outstretched head for more aggressive setups, or the resting head to signal submissiveness. The HDR Hen pairs perfectly with jake and gobbler decoys as well as other hen decoys to create an authentic, enticing turkey setup. It includes decoy, two removable heads, integrated carbon stake and carrying bag.
The use of decoys is a personal choice. Some folks choose, for whatever reason, not to use a decoy while turkey hunting, while others feel they are an important piece of the spring turkey-hunting puzzle.
When and when not to use a decoy is again a personal decision, but there are often a few guidelines that we can use as a guide for when and when not to use a decoy.
If you want to experience turkey hunting at its worst, put out a full strutter at the wrong time. You’ll see red heads pop up in the distance and then bob away like you’ve got a coyote sitting in the middle of your spread. When your time is right, however, you’ll get an incredible reaction.
When winter flocks start busting up, the fighting starts. During this time, the toughest, biggest birds usually end up taking names and kicking butts. If you scout enough, you’ll see those birds tucked into the middle of a bunch of hens or trailing just behind them, and they’ll strut nearly nonstop all day long.
Where those hens like to feed early in the season is where you should place a full strutter, along with a couple of hens. The key here is location. If you want to elicit a fighting response from a dominant tom, you’ve got to be on his turf. If you’re off by a couple hundred yards, he isn’t coming. Make sure your scouting is accurate and that his flock of girlfriends is going to wander by.
Once located, face your strutter towards where you’re planning to hide and get ready for the action. Read that last sentence again: face the strutter toward you. This won’t get a jake or confident 2-year-old to come in, but a boss gobbler with hens will take the bait almost every time.
The single-best decoy anyone can own is a submissive, half- or quarter-strut jake. If you want to shoot any legal turkey, half or quarter strut jake will draw in anything with a beard. These decoys are effective all spring, so long as you pair them with the right birds. A laydown hen is great to go alongside a jake decoy, especially for the first couple weeks of the season. Any longbeard or flock of jakes that sees a loner who looks like he’s found a lady is likely to commit. The key is to make sure the laydown hen is visible to approaching birds and not obscured by grass or brush.
This two-bird setup is good, but can be even better if you mix in a couple of feeding or upright hens, especially in the first half of the season. Position them facing your setup all in the same direction, with the jake in last place. The ruse should look like a small flock walking away, with the only male in the group about to get lucky.
As the season progresses, pay attention to the reactions you get. Eventually you’ll want to peel off the extra hens and step down to a two-decoy setup.
As I cut my teeth hunting late in the century, tags in New York every year. What I learned in those formative years was that any combination of decoys might work, but the best bet was to use one or two hens.
As the season continues, the fever of the season has died down and there are a lot of loners on the landscape. The birds are still workable, but they don’t want to fight anymore and they really only want a sure thing. A wise old fly fisherman once told me to match the bait to the hatch. I do the same thing as the season goes on. The birds are getting more pressure. I match my decoys with what I am seeing. If I am seeing only lone hens, then I will put out a lone hen and so on.
When you hunt later in the year, you tend to see lots of single or paired-up hens and mostly single gobblers or small groups of jakes. This is likely due to the availability of food-insects and fresh growth, as well as the amount of nesting going on. Plus, the birds no longer need to be concentrated on the best food sources or most weather-friendly roosts. They can, and will, spread out across their entire home range.
Toms know this, so when they encounter a solo decoy, or maybe a feeder and an upright hen, it’s the same with what is going on in your part of turkey country and with what’s going on with the flock at that moment. In their eyes, they’ve found a willing companion right as the bar closes.
As always, it’s important to be flexible. Always pay attention to not only what the birds are saying and how they are saying it but also the amount of turkeys together or alone. Always remember what the old fly fisherman said, “Match the hatch.”